Monday 27 November 2023







Victoria Concert Hall

Sunday (26 November 2023)

The Covid pandemic had wreaked havoc for Singapore's premier music competition for locally-based pianists and violinists. In 2021, the National Piano & Violin Competition (NPVC) was held completely online with no live audience in attendance. The grand finals of both Piano and Violin Artist categories were performed with piano accompaniment instead of an orchestra. Thus, it was a pleasure to be able to attend the quarter-final recitals of the Piano Artist category in person at Victoria Concert Hall. A lazy Sunday afternoon never felt more well spent.

Thanks to astute choices made by the preliminary judging panel, only eight pianists were chosen to perform their quarter-finals recital, and they were mostly excellent. The repertoire was limited to just a single baroque work lasting between 15-25 minutes. As fortune would have it, all eight pianists performed different works - with no repetition of repertoire - and this made for an enthralling afternoon.

The afternoon opened with Michelle (only one name, as Indonesians are wont to be) performing an unusual choice of Handel's Keyboard Suite in D minor (HWV.428). This multi-movement work could easily have been mistaken for Bach, if not for a fugal second movement, and with theme and variations as its finale. Hers was a very clean and articulate reading, with good pedalling and contrapuntal lines well delineated. The variations felt almost improvisatory and she finished emphatically.

Next was Zongxi He in the often-performed Bach Partita No.1 in B flat major, a work that risks been over-familiar. There were some nice ornamentations applied, and she was very fluent in the fast running dance movements. Taking risks, there were some missed notes, but it was still a satisfying reading.

Giving the most personal performance of the afternoon was Long Jing Xuan in Bach's Partita No.6 in E minor, easily the longest work on show. He was determined to make each movement count by taking as many liberties as possible and extracting the maximal sonorities from the Steinway grand. Improvisatory in feel for many parts, his was the most interesting reading of all, but would he be considered mannered by the jury? One good thing: he was allowed to perform the entire without any interruption (that dreaded time-keeping bell was not employed for the entire afternoon) and that was just great.

Another very familiar work was Bach's French Suite No.5 in G major, which saw a reading by Lee Ann that exposed her nerves, when she had a minor stumble in the opening bar. She nevertheless recovered and offered some of the more interesting ornamentations (some might consider these overdone) heard this afternoon. The prestidigitation in the Gigue was excellent, and she had the requisite technique to keep the dynamo running unimpeded.

After a 15-minute intermission, the baroque feast continued with Wang Chien Jou in Bach's English Suite No.3 in G minor. Hers was a very confident and sonorous performance with very clean and no-nonsense approach. Parts could sound metronomic at times, but a well-schooled technique ensured a cool but emphatic close.

There was little to separate her and Fong Zi Ying, who followed with Bach's Partita No.3 in A minor, which had similar qualities of being very fluent, tasteful and ultimately satisfying. I expect both of these young lasses to advance.

Bach's English Suite No.2 in A minor has the most virtuosic Prelude of them all, and Fong Kai De made every note count by channeling an inner Argerich or Pogorelich with a sure-fingered brilliance. This performance was not mere superficial flash but possessed with a nuanced approach which not just exciting but also touched. Just for the febrile nature of his reading, this might have been the standout performance of the afternoon.

Closing the afternoon was Joshua Lau in Bach's Partita No.5 in G major, in a very strong, very crisp and very musical reading. His was epitome of good taste and refinement, with not a single hair out of place. The fugal passages in the closing Gigue were very well articulated, the brilliant close suggests this young man to be the person to beat in this competition.

It was close to 6 pm when the pianists, jury and audience dispersed for dinner and well-earned rest, and four pianists would be picked to advance - Long, Lee, Fong (the lady) and Tang. The semi-finals and finals (three out of this goodly quartet) should be exciting prospects.

Piano professors meet:
Nicholas Ong, Boris Kraljevic and Albert Tiu
account for all four semifinalists
in the Piano Artist category this year!

Tickets for the Grand Final (only $10, a steal in Singapore!) on Saturday 2 December 2023 to watch three piano concertos accompanied by the NPVC Orchestra (actually the Singapore Symphony Orchestra but in name) may be purchased here: 

Singapore Symphony Orchestra (

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